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A conscious shift

MALATHI RANGARAJAN

These days Sivakumar’s activity graph converges towards the literary.

Photo: R. Shivaji Rao

SELF-MADE: Sivakumar with a passion for Kambaramayanam.

“The man’s memory is amazing,” I’ve heard people say. Still witnessing it live in a one-to-one at his home in T. Nagar leaves me dumbstruck! Arunagirinathar, Tirumoolar, Vivekananda, Osho, Bharatiyar and Kannadasan find their way into a cascade of quotes that blends seamlessly with the conversation. Meet the multi-faceted Sivakumar who lives life on his own terms, with values intact.

From artist to actor, writer to orator, Sivakumar’s pursuits have been many. “They have to be, otherwise life could become drudgery,” he chuckles. Behind the skills you notice the diligence, drive and determination of a self-made person. Quite recently, at a conclave organised by the Public Relations Council of India, Sivakumar addressed a gathering of litterateurs and avid ‘Kamba Ramayanam’ enthusiasts. Speaking on the subject titled ‘Kamban 50’ Sivakumar, the orator of the evening, held the audience in thrall for nearly an hour with an inspiring, expressive analysis of the epic in simple language. And without even a small piece of paper as reference material the speech was more like an on-the-spot effort.

“No oration of mine is extempore,” says Sivakumar. “I give speeches on a variety of subjects and prepare every bit of it with care. Holding the attention of a crowd for a long time is a challenge. I love challenges. But when during my talk I see people getting distracted I lose my cool. It happened recently at a meet in Karur. I may appear soft but I’m tough,” he admits with candour. And adds: “Can you believe it if I say that as a boy I was very timid and inhibited?”

Another dimension

When the Tamil savant Solomon Pappiah approached Sivakumar to give a speech at Kamban Kazhagam little did the actor know that it was going to add another dimension to his public speaking endeavours.

However, the paradigm shift from acting to public speaking didn’t happen in a day. “Even as a schoolboy I loved literature. And without much effort I could easily recall everything I read, verbatim. I have inherited my father’s genes,” he says. Sivakumar was a 10-month old when his dad passed away. His father Rakkia Gounder, he was told, could recite all the tongue-twisting verses of ‘Thiruppugazh’ and that he taught the people of his village of Kasi Goundan Pudur, near Coimbatore, to read and write.

Walking to the Board High School in Sulur town and back everyday, gave the young boy time to memorise Tamil dialogue of film classics such as ‘Parasakti’ and ‘Veera Pandiya Katta Bomman.’ “Karunanidhi, Sakti Krishnasamy, A.K. Velan and A.P. Nagarajan stoked the love for literature in me,” he laughs.

“Age doesn’t dull the brain. I still have the energy of a seven-year old,” says the sexagenarian. Every morning he is up at 3.30 to learn the Ramayana by rote and analyse its sum and substance. He is now ready with the next 50 verses of ‘Kamba Ramayanam.’ “At any given time, in a discourse, I’m told only about a dozen stanzas are quoted along with the narration. But in my speech I have recited 50 songs in about 40 minutes, adopting a simple story-telling style. My aim is to take the literary wealth of the epic to the lay and the learned alike,” he says.

Rajaji had once said that ‘Kamba Ramayanam’ died with T.K. Chidambaranatha Mudaliar, because he was the only one who would recite its verses and explain their significance. The others just do a post mortem of Kamban’s work, was his contention. Sivakumar’s resolve is to recite at least a100 powerful songs substantiating them with meanings narrated in simple style. “As far as I know, in recent times Cho’s books on the two epics are the best we have,” he notes.


On January 25, 2009, Sivakumar will present his treatise on the most important 100 songs of ‘Kamba Ramayanam’ at Kongu Vellalar Women’s College, Thindal, Erode, to a 3,000 strong audience. The proceedings will be shot with five cameras and produced as CDs. He intends taking up ‘Thirukkural’ next. “As it is message oriented I plan to add interesting anecdotes and stories to the couplets,” he says.

His emotion-packed speeches in the past few years at the Book Fair in Erode are much-awaited annual events. (Grab the videos. They are worth it.)

Writing — a natural outcome of his voracious reading habit — is also a passion. “You can’t say that it is the result of reading. All my pursuits have been almost simultaneous. Only that one overtakes the others at some point,” contends Sivakumar. The overwhelming response to his autobiography ‘Idhu Rajapattai Alla’ has made him come out with his ‘Diary – 1946-75’ published recently, which has been equally well-received. “My daily record of happenings is my guide and teacher,” he says.

When, as an actor, he decided to call it a day people warned him that he could get frustrated. “But I had my course charted out. I knew I wouldn’t regret my decision. After all happiness is a state of mind,” he says.

Today cinema is a thing of the past for Sivakumar — only if the offer is unusual will he think of donning the greasepaint again. Otherwise he prefers the company of books, and writing sheets to ink his thoughts. “Basically I’m a loner. I am my friend. I can be silent for days on end reading and writing. Vivekananda says one must be able to meditate amidst the melee of a football match. I practise it. And my wife makes home a haven for me, a nest where I can relax in peace. What more can I ask for?” he smiles.

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